Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Adoption, Medical History, & Feeling Helpless

There are various instances that I as an adopted individual bumped into growing up that brought just a sting of a reminder about how I do not know my family medical history and am often in the dark with illnesses. When you have an emergency that "sting" turns into more of a gut-wrenching pain in the pit of your stomach. Throughout my life, I've literally taken a "shot in the dark" with chronic mild to severe allergic reactions--including ones that interfered with my ability to breathe, asthma, mysterious "masses" showing up on x-rays and heart palpitations to name a few.
But then there are the emergencies.....

I was 21 years old and had what I thought was an enlarged gland in my neck. I ignored it and it grew and grew. A nurse friend of mine was prodding it with her finger one day and she said "you know, if it's a swollen gland due to fighting a cold, this really should hurt. Since it doesn't, you ought to get it looked out."

So I did. Scopes and scans ensued.  Four doctors later, I was finally in the chair of a pathologist. Let me tell you how terrifying it is to have to lay back with no local anesthesia while someone inserts needle after needle into your neck, poking away trying to get a tissue sample to come out. That of course was no more terrifying than when they look at it under the microscope while you’re still sitting there and tell you "we don't know what this is."  Followed by, "is cancer in your family?"

The recommendation by my ENT was to get this thing out as soon as possible. My doctors knew I worked in the medical profession. The suspicions of cancer weren't easy to hide from me: I could read the ICD-9 codes on my scripts "lymphoadenopathy of unknown origin" and "lymphoma." Cancer was something we talked about. The unknown overwhelmed me; the unknown of what my DNA itself predisposed me to.

I remember laying awake on my honeymoon less than a month before my surgery wondering how much longer I'd have with my husband. I wondered if I’d live long enough to have children.

The procedure was not going to be simple; I would need to be under the knife for about four hours. The tumor was under my facial nerve which would need to be stretched and traumatized by a neurologist the entire procedure to get the tumor out. Even if it wasn't cancer, it was made very clear to me that my 21-year-old face might endure stroke-like facial paralysis for an unspecified amount of time.  Possibly forever.

I remember being wheeled into the OR when the IVs started going into my arms. It all suddenly became very real to me. I was terrified and tears began streaming down my face. This was my first surgery and the prospect of so many unknowns was overwhelming. Knowing that without entitlement to an on-going family medical history that I could experience this and more situations like this over and over again was exhausting.

The nurses couldn't figure out why I was so upset; they had given me medication to relax. Yet I don’t think there’s a pill to make helplessness go away. One nurse grasped my hospital ID band and noted my date of birth aloud "oh, she's just a baby," she said with compassion filling her voice. They hugged me.

I'm not a baby anymore. I have a baby of my own and now, I worry about him. I am the only medical history he has to go by and you see how far that has gotten me.

We forget that denying someone's right to information also denies their children and their children's children--so on and so forth. Adoptees have the right to seek contact and ask for on-going medical information.  Our lives are literally on the line here. Everyone who loves an adopted person should be concerned about the adoptee's access to information for health, wellness, wholeness, identity.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Maine Adoptee Rights: State Rep Farrington Overheard

I loved this quote from State Rep David Farrinton's floor remarks on LD 1084:

"[denying birth certificate access] may be appropriate when dealing with children; but children, including adopted children, grow up.  Unfortunately, Main law treats adult adoptees as perpetual children and presumes that they cannot handle or cannot be trusted with information about their own origins."

"The state cannot promise and has never promised perpetual anonymity to birth parents; if that were the case, an adoptee would have no right ever to intiate a search!  But of course, there is nothing illegal, unethical or unhealthy about an adoptee seeking out information about their orgins.  And the birth certificate itself has never been guaranteed to remain confidential."

"No, every adoptee or birth parent will not find a fairytale ending,  But that is not our job as legislators.  LD 1084 simply seeks to provide treatment to Maine's adult adoptees and restore to all Maine citizens the right to have access to their own birth certificates."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Will South Dakota Become an Open State?

According to this news article: http://www.ksfy.com/news/local/63480837.html, South Dakota state Rep. Eldon Nygaard, is planning to sponsor a bill favoring access (other than by court-order-only) to adoptees to their birth records.

To my dismay, the article also states that another state Rep. Joni Cutler of Sioux Falls, is fine with the laws in their current state, despite the fact that she is an adoptee herself.


What you can do:  check out SEAL's Facebook Page.

Contact Eldon Nygaard and give him some encouragement and support!  Let him know that nothing short of complete and open access is acceptable.

Honorable Eldon Nygaard (State Representative -Democrat)

1419 E. Cherry Street
Vermillion, SD 57069

Contact Rep. Joni Cutler and try to change her mind!

Honorable Joni M. Culter (State Representative -Republican)
Home Address (Apprenently mail is sent to the homes of legislators instead of state or district offices? This address is as per the state website).

3801 S Judy Ave
Sioux Falls, SD 57103

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Government Secret: How to Access Your Original Birth Certificate and Adoption Records in Tennessee

Those of you who have been following my blog will be happy to hear that I finally gained access to my sealed records. Few people realise how long, drawn-out and humiliating this process is and are shocked when I explain it. Since I finally have the records in my hands, I thought I would type out my entire process from start-to-finish so that people can see from my perspective what it is like to apply for sealed records from the state of Tennessee.

Here are a few things I'd like for you to keep in mind. Two states never sealed records. Four additional states have unsealed their records and have open access. A few more states have some sort of access but allow original parents r to deny access or allow adoptees to see only censored records. The rest of the country allows adoptees access to their records by court order only (so you can imagine how hard it is to get anything at all in those states).

I'd like to  also point out is that along with the adoption records being sealed, so is an adoptee's Original Birth Certificate. My birth certificate was altered to show my adoptive parents as though they gave birth to me and my original was sealed as though it was something shameful.

Lastly, the "blame" for this mess lies solely with a messed up system that is governed by out-dated and archaic laws that stigmatize unwed mothers and their children. These flawed policies are not the fault of adoptees themselves, original parents, or adoptive parents.

When you read this, keep in mind that a Tennessee born individual can pay $8 to obtain a printed copy of their birth certificate and they generally wait about 2 weeks to receive it.

Obtaining the Records
1. You must first apply for the eligibility to obtain your records. This is $150 and is non-refundable even if you are denied.

2. TN DCS will request your records from storage (it took 30 days for my files to be taken out of storage and delivered to the case managers). The employees review your files. If you were determined to the the product of rape or incest, they must initiate a search for your original mother to ask her permission for you to view your files.

3. If you were not the product of rape or incest, you skip directly to #4. If you were and your original mother gives the "OK," you can move on to step #4. If your original mother denies you access, you can then start a process to receive non-identifying information. This means that they take a marker to your records and censor out anything they think you could use to identify someone.

4. TN DCS will contact you by letter notifying you if you are eligible for access to your records. They will include the "Sworn Statement" with your letter that you must sign in order to achieve access to your records.

This document essentially acts as a restraining order.  You agree that to access your records and get clearance to obtain your original birth certificate, you will not contact certain individuals whose names may be found in your record without further clearance from TN DCS.  Adoptees who violate this, even by accident, can face both civil and criminal penalties.

5. If you live locally, you can go in to the office to view your records and copy whatever you'd like to take with you. It is $.25 per copied page. If you do not live locally, they will count the pages and mail you a bill for $.25 per copied page. Once they receive your payment, they will then send the adoptee their records.

6.  You may receive a hospital long form photo copy of your original birth certificate in the file.  But your actual OBC may not be present if a copy is not in your adoption records.  You will receive official letters from TN DCS that you can send in to the Vital Statistics office to request your OBC.  It costs $35 to make this request with the Vital Stats office.

Let's Move on to Establishing Contact
This currently costs $150 and can only be done after going through the records request process.  That Disclosure Veto you had to agree to in order to receive your records?  This process exists to allow you to contact your original mother through the veto that you signed.  An original mother may allow you to contact her in certain ways through the veto.  Or she can say "no" and disallow you to contact her altogether.  She is also given the right through this law to "veto" other family members. In other words, the law allows an original mother to make it illegal for you to contact an aunt or uncle, even if that adult relative very much wants to speak with you.

When all was said and done, this process that allowed me the right to do what everyone else does usually for free as a part of being human--access their birth record and talk to biological family members--cost me about $300.

The reality is, TN was the first State to reform this process and make access at least easier for adult adoptees.  This was won after a long, arduous battle in court  and against all odds.  I can't lose appreciation for that.  But I cannot say that the law is OK as it is either.  Adoptees must be treated the same way all those who are not adopted are.  Become an Adoptee Rights activist today.